Sunday, November 22, 2015

Chapter 13 - Pets of 2015

2015 has been an amazing year for us. From Connecticut to California we have had the pleasure of caring for these 13 beautiful animals. This, my  friends, is the REAL reward of house sitting!

(click and magnify to see them up close and personal)

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Chapter 12 - Lees trade their stuff for an adventure

(reprinted with permission of the St. Cloud Times)

Lees trade their stuff for an adventure
Dave DeLand, 10:02 a.m. CDT August 30, 2015

(Photo: Courtesy of Jeff and Charli Lee)
Their kids had flown the nest.

The nest was way too big, and filled with too much stuff.

So, Charli and Jeff Lee got rid of it.

All of it — the house, the furniture, the contents, almost every trapping of their 26-year marriage.

Then they left St. Cloud to go on an adventure.

“We feel like kids again,” Charli said. “Our kids laugh at us — they think we’re acting like kids.”

“Let’s shake it up a little bit,” said Jeff from their current residence — a beautiful home in scenic Port Townsend, Washington, which overlooks Puget Sound.

“He and his wife are very adventuresome to do this — sell everything and start moving around,” added Pete Nelson, Jeff’s band mate in two of his St. Cloud musical incarnations. “They’ve got a wandering spirit, apparently.”

After a quarter-century of marriage, work and raising their three kids, Charli and Jeff started a new phase in life — one that’s already taken them from coast to coast, and eventually might take them across Europe.

They’re now full-time house sitters. That’s literally been a trip — to really nice homes in really nice places, with more already on their docket.

“We decided instead of us selling and immediately re-buying, why don’t we put the money in the bank for a while, and play a little bit?” said Jeff, 54. “Let’s go do some house-sitting and see how that works out.”

“You spend 25 years focused on raising your kids,” said Charli, 51. “You just sit there and look at each other, keep going to the same restaurants, keep doing the exact same thing.

“You can get bored with each other, or you can say, ‘Let’s take an adventure.’ ”

The adventure required bravery, and flexibility, and togetherness.

It also required imagination. That’s how this got started.

Planting a seed

The Lees moved to St. Cloud in 1991, raised their kids (Brandon, 24; Austin, 23; Rosie, 19) and worked their jobs — hers in the fraud department at Capital One, his as a computer programmer.

Jeff now works as a project manager for IBM, a job he can do almost anywhere.

(Photo: Courtesy of Jeff and Charli Lee)
 “He just needs a computer, cellphone and the Internet,” Nelson said.

That was part of the genesis of the house-sitting idea. It began three years ago, when Charli and Jeff were driving to the West Coast to deliver their sons’ possessions.

“We just had so much fun,” Charli said. “He worked in the passenger’s seat. I drove all day. We figured that we could do it — we could travel, and he could still do his job.”

At about the same time, Charli read a blog written by a house sitter who had traveled all over Europe with her husband and seven kids.

“I thought it sounded good,” she said. “Jeff thought I was crazy.”

“Which she is,” Jeff added.

Just crazy enough, it turns out, to give house-sitting a test run.

Goodbye, stuff

During the summer of 2013, a friend of Jeff’s needed a house sitter at his home on the island of Hawaii. Charli and Jeff did a two-week stint that lit the fuse.

“The Hawaii thing was a good start. It gave me an idea of what it’s really like to house-sit,” Jeff said. “It becomes your own home when you’re doing it.”

And so, with Rosie entering her senior year at St. Cloud Technical High School, the Lees began downsizing their world.

“He was a horrible hoarder,” said Charli, who took an estimated 12 carloads of stuff to Catholic Charities. “We gave most of it away. It was 100 percent liberating.”

“It also was a little bit of shakes while we were doing it,” Jeff said. “As a guy, I had a whole shop that was full of amazing tools, right?

“In the end, I justified it by saying, ‘This is just stuff.’ When I settle down again and I have a place, I can get more stuff.”

The Lees hosted a couple rummage sales, and sold their house as it was staged — furniture and household items included. They stored personal mementos at Jeff’s parents’ home in Duluth.

Letting go of the music was a little harder.

“The immediate reaction from all my musician friends was ‘Oh no,’ ” said Jeff, who had played keyboards and harp with Nelson in The Receders and as Nelson/Lee since 2002. He also played in a variety of tribute shows with Justin Ploof & The Throwbacks, and with Collective Unconscious.

“I found it kind of a surprise, because Jeff had such a rich musical life,” Nelson said. “There was a little bit of disbelief when it actually happened.”

Their house sold late last fall. On Dec. 14, the Lees loaded up their car and hit the road.

Road trip

First stop was a three-month stint in South Kent, Connecticut. Like all the ensuing stops, it was a cash-free transaction.

“We don’t receive money, and the homeowners don’t receive money,” Charli said. “They’re getting somebody who’s doing it for the excitement of living in a nice place, and exploring their town. We’re getting a nice house that we don’t have to pay anything to live in.”

Charli monitors five websites daily for postings to apply for.

“She’s our screener and our schedule-keeper,” Jeff said. “To keep it so we don’t have gaps and we’re not crisscrossing the country every other time is a challenge.”

After Connecticut, they house-sat in the Sacramento, California area for a month ... took a one-week vacation to Yosemite, Sequoia National Forest and the Grand Canyon ... and house-sat for a month in Ridgway, Colorado.

They returned to Minnesota on July 1, to house-sit in Northfield and to enable Jeff to play at the Takin’ It To The Streets Festival on Aug. 1. Two days later, they left for Washington.

“Everything has been absolutely fantastic in its way,” Charli said. “Every one has been so different.”

Pets are a commonality. Almost every home includes at least one.

“Dogs, cats, birds, rats, everything,” Jeff said. “Every house has a pet with a personality. That’s what makes it so cool. You get to experience the best of pets without actually owning one.”

Charli Lee looks over the Grand Canyon during a vacation break between house-sitting gigs.
(Photo: Courtesy of Jeff and Charli Lee)
They’ve also made a whole bunch of new buddies.

“Every single homeowner has become a dear friend,” Charli said. “There’s so much trust that’s put into you.

“By the time they come home, you feel like they’re long-lost friends.”

Advance planning

After their six-week stay in Port Townsend, the Lees have a seven-week stint in Portland, Oregon, starting Sept. 30.

Then it’s on to Phoenix for two weeks, followed by two weeks off in mid-December.

“We’re gonna go back to Minnesota, celebrate a little Christmas early, and then we’ll go back to the same house in Phoenix,” Jeff said. “We’ll be there for two more weeks.”

Santa Fe, New Mexico, is next. After that, there’s a gig in Vermont that will take them into April.

“And then we don’t know,” Charli said. “It got a little out of control, because Jeff wrote a blog the Huffington Post picked up. We started getting emails and requests from that blog. We were booked out eight months.

“We try to keep it closer to three months, because you have a little more control if something happens.”

Actually, something did.

Healthy inspiration

In late 2013, Jeff was diagnosed with a pre-cancerous condition while undergoing a routine colonoscopy.

“If he didn’t have a colonoscopy,” Charli said, “it would have been cancer.”

“The thing I’m struggling with is fortunately benign,” Jeff said, “but it’s persistent.”

The diagnosis didn’t necessarily prompt the Lees’ decision to change direction, but it certainly didn’t dissuade them.

“If you’re asking are we trying to travel because we’re healthy now, that’s part of it,” Jeff said. “But it wasn’t specifically around that.

Charli, left, daughter Rosie and Jeff Lee spent two weeks in Hawaii during their first house-sitting gig in the summer of 2013. (Photo: Courtesy of Jeff and Charli Lee)
“We hear stories every day about people that wait until they’re 65 or 70 to retire, and then a couple months later somebody is dying.”

“My mom did die, at 62, from colon cancer,” Charli said. “They had just started talking about their big retirement plans, and where they wanted to travel. Then she passed away. So it is an influence.”

It’s an inspiration, for them both, to take advantage of their relative youth and health.

“I’d rather work a simple job (when older) if I need to, to make our retirement last longer,” Charli said, “than use up all my great health to save for retirement that I may or may not even make.”

No end in sight

So, away they went.

Charli says it’s a little like dating. “We’re exploring things, and have new things to talk about.”

“Our goals are to get to some cool, exotic places,” Jeff said. “We’d love to be able to house-sit in Manhattan, in Central Park.”

After that, the Lees would like to find a long-term house-sitting job somewhere in the U.S., enabling Charli to get a job and help finance a subsequent European house-sitting junket.

“People say, ‘How long are you going to do it?’ Well, until it doesn’t make sense, or it’s not fun any more,” Jeff said. “It hasn’t been anything but amazing, so why stop, right?”

“Right now, we have no desire to settle down,” Charli said. “It’s been the greatest thing ever.”

Even better than all that ... stuff.

Contact Times columnist Dave DeLand at 255-8771 or by email at Follow him on Twitter @davedeland and on Facebook at Dave DeLand SC Times.

Additional Photo Gallery

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Chapter 11 - House Sitting Nuts and Bolts

I'm always fascinated by how fascinated people are by what we're doing.

It doesn't seem to matter who we talk to or where we are... when we tell someone that we got rid of all our possessions and travel full time as house sitters, people immediately stop what they're doing and start firing questions at us:
- what did you do with all your stuff?
- how does it work?
- how do find these places?
- do you travel in a RV?
- what did you do with all your stuff?

We also get a lot of questions from people who want to do this for real themselves, and they have more specific questions related to the "nuts and bolts" of making it happen. So in response to them, here are the dirty details of how to be a full time house sitter.

Web Sites
The first question people normally ask is "How do you find the houses to sit for?" The fact is, there are dozens of web sites devoted to house sitting, but we've narrowed our searches down to these five:  $20/yr - and you can only see the available house sits if you're a member  $25/yr - you can browse available houses before paying but you must register in order to apply for one. This is the same for the next 3 as well.  $30/yr  $50/yr  $114/yr

We've found that using these 5 web sites together provides us the best opportunity to sweep for available sits. Sure, $239 (total) sounds expensive but considering the fact you are living RENT FREE every year, it's really not that much money. Certainly cheaper than even one month's worth of rent/mortgage or even a hotel if you use one of these for vacations.

When we are trying to fill our schedule, Charli checks each of these sites at least 4 times per day. It's amazing how many people respond to a desirable opportunity. We've had some owners tell us they get 50 applications within a few hours and become so overwhelmed by responses that they pull their ad or start ignoring the emails. That's why you have to be quick on the trigger, otherwise you can miss the perfect house sit for your plan.

Note: There are many other web sites as well for this, but these are the 5 we've settled on which have worked great for us.

Your Profile
The most important thing a house sitter needs is a good profile. This will be the first piece of information a home owner will look at to determine if you make the cut as a candidate. In our profile we provide a friendly picture, a reason why we house sit, background information about us personally and professionally, and the reasons why we would be good house sitters for the owners and their pets. Think of it as a personal resume. Giving up their home and pets to complete strangers is a huge leap of faith for a home owner, so your profile needs to convey the sincerity and trust that they are looking at the right people for the job.

Getting Selected
After you've registered with a web site and applied for a house sit, the steps for being chosen as a house sitter can be different for every situation. Typically the process involves an initial response from the owner in a message from the web site indicating they would like to learn more about you, which is then followed by a few emails. From there an owner may request a phone call to conduct an interview, and sometimes this is done via Facetime or Skype.

Once the owners are comfortable you aren't ax murderers, the details of the engagement will be discussed. This is when you find out the specifics about the pets, house, gardens etc and the expectations of the owners. This is also when the deal is normally closed and the sit can be locked in on your calendar.

A few weeks before arriving at the house, we provide the owners with a list of items we like them to review so we can make sure we have all the information necessary to care for their pets and home. A few examples of what we want to know are:
  • Pets - food, meds, vet info, feeding/walking schedules, personality quirks
  • Property maintenance - lawn and garden care
  • Emergency - pet hospital, plumber, water main shutoff, breaker box
  • Schedules - garbage/recycling, lawn service, pest control
  • Technical - wifi password, router location, how to program the thermostat, how to turn on the 5 different remotes needed to watch a TV show
  • Local information - best restaurants, events, car repair
Before, During and After
Normally we find that arriving 2 days early makes for the best transition. On the first day we like to get there in the afternoon and spend the evening just relaxing and getting to know each other. The next day is spent going over all the details listed above and the owners preparing for their travels.

After the owners have left we keep them updated with frequent emails on how things are going, including pictures of their pets. They appreciate knowing that everything is being taken care of and the interaction helps form a stronger bond between us.

We have found with every house sit that by the time we leave, we have gained new lifelong friends who we always look forward to seeing again.

When the owners return home we plan it so that we will leave the next morning. This gives us the day to update each other on how it went at home and what they did on their vacation. We want to make sure that we turn their house back over to them as quickly as possible so they can get their lives back to normal without having to worry about guests.

After every house sit it's important to collect a review from the owner and add it to your profile. Accumulating good reviews is the best way to ensure you'll make it to the top of the list in the future. 

As we've said many times over the last 10 chapters... house sitting is an amazing way to travel, save money and experience the world in intimate detail. If you are respectful, take good care of their pets, communicate often, and leave their home clean and yard properly tended to, you will be successful house sitters and will enjoy years of exciting adventures. It's really that simple.

Oh, and don't be ax murderers.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Chapter 10 - House Sitting, The Prequel

Selling everything we owned and hitting the road wasn't a decision Charli and I made overnight...  it came from a series of events we didn't even realize were leading us here.

A few years earlier we had talked about the milestone of becoming empty nesters and had come to conclusion that we would most likely sell our house and buy a much smaller place, you know, one that was cheaper to maintain, easier to keep clean and less taxy on our property.

Around the same time, Charli had stumbled on a blog about a family of seven who had been traveling their way across Europe by house sitting. "Hey honey" she beamed, "check this out! Isn't this fascinating?" assuming I would share her enthusiasm. "Uh... sure?" I replied cautiously, with only the worst possible kind of nightmare jumping into my head. You see as a project manager, all I could think of was how much of a hassle it must be for this poor couple... trying to figure out where you would live next and not knowing what the owners or their place would be like. It sounded stressful and like nothing I would ever be interested in. But nonetheless the concept had been discovered and Charli owned it now.

Fast forward another year and suddenly Rosie was starting her junior year of high school, and the conversation about selling and downsizing surfaced once again. One thing we had always agreed on for many years was that as soon as the kids had moved on we would definitely try a new location... one that didn't involve six months of below zero weather in the winter and six months of bird-sized mosquitoes in the spring and summer (note that the omission of fall is not an error). Now it was just a matter of deciding which state to aim at.

HOWEVER... little did I know, Charli had not forgotten about this whole "house sitting" thing whereas I, on the other hand, had ejected it from my brain about 30 seconds after she first mentioned it. And then out of nowhere I get this... "Hey hon, what do you think about house sitting?"

OMG... what do I think about house sitting? Apparently Charli had buried this little nut like a squirrel, and now had dug it up to serve me for dinner.

To be honest, I really didn't know much about it. With the exception of the lunatics couple who were dragging five kids around Europe I had never really heard of it before. But I've always been open minded so I put on my yes honey, this sounds fascinating face and smiled along as Charli fantasized about wandering from state to state and house to house, while we gallivanted across the county living in other people's houses for free. "Sounds great dear," I patronized. "Let's do it!" Of course I was convinced this was just a fad that she was going through that would eventually be replaced with the more normal decision to look for a nice little house with enough room in the back yard for a garden and a grill.

But then weird stuff started to happen. Stuff that began pulling us into a lifestyle that was beyond our control.

First, Rosie had taken a major interest in marine sciences and had found a summer program for upcoming high school seniors in Florida that she wanted to attend. Then, a few weeks later my old time blogging buddy Carla put out a request on Facebook for someone to house sit for them in Hawaii for a few weeks while they went back to Seattle to attend their daughter's college graduation. Within 5 seconds of that post I left a comment claiming "FIRST!" and suggested I wanted to be the one to do it. I was mostly kidding but kinda wasn't. Then when Carla replied, "Ok Jeff, you have first dibs on the house sit" I started to believe it might be possible. Of course I now had the perfect ammunition to throw at Charli... "Hey, remember that 'house sitting' thing you were so jazzed about last year? WELLLLL?"

Strangely enough she wasn't against it. So one thing led to another and the next thing I knew we were discussing actual dates. Unfortunately, I soon learned that Carla's house sit was the EXACT SAME TIME Rosie wanted to go to Florida! BOO. Oh well, it was a nice try but it wasn't going to happen this time.


For some reason I wasn't satisfied with just giving up so I decided to see if there was any other options for Rosie. Nope, no other dates in Florida. Nope, no other schools in Florida. Nope, no chance of telling her "Sorry honey, but dad is very selfish and wants to go to Hawaii instead. But hey, maybe next time!" And then something hit me. Wait, what about Hawaii itself? And sure enough when I looked - there it was... the University of Hawaii, Hilo had a summer semester offering of Introduction to Marine Science and Oceanography that started two days before we would be done with Carla's house sit. It was perfect!

And perfect it was. We lived in a beautiful house, taking care of a very sweet cat, spending our free time hiking to waterfalls, snorkeling in aquamarine waters and living the Hawaiian vibe. It pretty much was a dream come true. One interesting side note is that because I am required to work 8-5 US central time hours, in Hawaii I worked from 3-noon, which of course meant that I got off work right smack in the middle of the day! And also, because Hawaii is so close to the equator the sun sets shortly after 6 pm, so by 8 pm we were exhausted and ready to hit the hammock. All in all an ideal situation for what we wanted to do.

To make a long story short (I know, too late), this post is how we got to where we are today. About the same time Rosie started her freshman year in Hawaii, Charli and I decided that we were going to give this whole house sitting thing a try for the long term. The following 3 months became a blur of garage sales, donations, trash pickups, open houses, open houses and more open houses, until finally... lift-off! Dec 13, 2014 - when we piled our meager remains into our hatchback and hit the road.

And THAT, my friends, is where this post begins, and our journey continues.

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Saturday, June 13, 2015

The 10 Best Things About House Sitting

As featured in the Huffington Post here and MSN Travel here

Last year, after their 3rd child left the nest, Jeff and Charli decided to do something they had wanted to do for a long time... travel around the United States full time as house/pet sitters.

On Dec 17, 2014 the couple sold their house and everything they owned, packed their car with what they needed to travel and hit the road for the next chapter in their lives. 

Since they started house sitting, Jeff and Charli have lived in homes in Hawaii, Connecticut (nestled in the Berkshire Mountains), Sacramento, CA, and currently in the San Juan mountains of Ridgway, CO. Following this they will be sitting in Minneapolis, MN, Port Townsend, WA, Santa Fe, NM and Phoenix, AZ. Their engagements typically last from 1 - 3 months per location.

Jeff continues to work full time by telecommuting and Charli secures the bookings and pilots the mobile office. You can get more information and follow their journey on Jeff's blog.

1. You meet great people
From the home owners themselves to their friends, neighbors and locals, the relationships you form will last a lifetime. We are thrilled to have met so many new people coast to coast who we can honestly call our friends.

2. You get to enjoy LOTS of great animals!
Yes, the pets! That's what house sitting is really about. Over the last few years we have cared for cats, dogs, parrots and very soon... rats! After spending weeks or months with these beautiful animals it's actually difficult to say goodbye when it's time to leave. 

Other ads we've seen include goats, chickens, fish, reptiles and horses. We would need a bigger car if we were going take a horse to the horse park.

3. It's free
There are lots of arrangements to choose from, but we prefer the barter system where no money is exchanged for our services. We get a great place to live and the owners get someone who provides loving care for their home and pets. The bonus?... since Dec, 2014, we have not had to pay a mortgage or any of the other expenses associated with home ownership.

4. It's freeing!
Not only did we sell our house, but we also sold EVERYTHING ELSE we owned. With the exception of a couple of keepsake bins we put in storage, literally everything we own now is in (and on) the back of our car. Of course I had to become a Tetris master to make it all fit, but we still continue to downsize every trip.

After 25 years of marriage and 3 children, we were surprised at how much "stuff" we had accumulated and how difficult it was to get rid of our lifetime of belongings. However, we were also surprised at how liberating it was to shed all those possessions and become minimalists. Ok, I do miss having a motorcycle but unfortunately there's just not enough room in the hatchback for anything else.

5. You can experience the country like the locals
This was one of the main things that attracted us to house sitting. Normally when you take a vacation, you feel the need to aim at the main attractions and cram as much stuff as possible into the week or two that you are there. As locals, we get to take our time and really get to know the communities we live in. This allows us to see the hidden treasures that exist in every town and experience what makes each community or state unique. For example, we are currently living in the beautiful small town of Ridgway, CO at 8000 feet, with this view just down the road from our house.

Ridgway, CO - Population - 924, cannabis dispensaries - 3

6. You connect with family and long lost friends
A major benefit of wandering around the United States as house sitters is that you are in control of your schedule. A good example of this is how we slowly navigated our way from CT to CA by stopping in every city where almost all of our family members and old friends reside. The beauty of that is you can stay for a day, have a great visit and not leave any fish odor on the way out.

7. Your job satisfaction increases dramatically
I've always been grateful for the ability to work from home, but quite frankly, sitting in the same home office for 10 years became a bit tiresome. As a house sitter, I now have a new home office in a different place every month or so. As well, because I'm getting to travel the county and see all the major attractions I've always wanted to see, I no longer have the yearning to hurry up and get to my retirement so I can do it then. The daily grind has disappeared and punching out at the end of the day is now an invitation to get outside and see something new!

8. You will experience interesting and beautiful households
Big houses, little houses, modern houses, old houses... we've lived in them all. Some are rustic and nestled in the woods, others are fancier and in a bustling active community, with bike and hiking trails just outside the door. So far, every home we've lived in has been a delight.

9. The day trips are amazing
This is a huge bonus for people who like to get out and explore. A "day trip" means anything that is within an hour or two (or whatever the home owners are comfortable with) where you can swoop in, see the attraction and head back home before the dogs start crossing their legs. Or, when possible you take the pooches with you for a day in a state park or hiking trail along a river. In a few cases we've also hired a friend of the owners to pet sit for the night while we headed into NYC for a Broadway play or to Boston for a day of sight seeing. The possibilities are endless.

Central Park!

10. It's exciting!
All of this above adds up to one thing... a lifestyle that is different and exciting! Even the process of packing up the car and heading to the next location gives us a feeling of "Ooh... I wonder what this next town will be like!" For example from Aug-Sept we will be living in Port Townsend, WA, a small town in the northwest corner of WA that sits on the bay across from Victoria, British Columbia. You need to take two different ferries just to get to Seattle.

I mean come on... how cool is that!

“Not all those who wander are lost.” - Tolkien

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Chapter 8 - California!

Well here we are firmly planted in the heart of northern California, and having an amazing time!

Starting from the moment we left Connecticut we have been on a whirlwind tour of stopping to see pretty much every family member we have (see Chapter 6) including our two boys in Phoenix and Oceanside... who coincidentally were BOTH in the process of moving at precisely the exact moment we pulled into their respective driveways. Hey, let's wait until mom and dad get here before we try to move all this crap!

Actually, we wouldn't have had it any other way. Being able to schedule your house sits so that you can help your children in time of need is a major bonus to the whole program.

Brandon had recently been told that the house he had been renting was now being sold, and he only had until June 1st to get out. This is not an easy thing to deal with... especially for a guy who works and goes to school full time. Fortunately we were able to step in and help him pack up his entire house over the 2 weeks we were there. This is the very kind of thing he needed most and the very kind of thing we felt lucky to be able to provide.

And then there's Austin... crammed into an apartment in Oceanside with 4 of his buddies for the last two years. We didn't even know until a few days before we got there that they had all decided to rent a house a few blocks away instead, which is cool. Except that... well, let's just say these guys aren't exactly... uh... planners? Our first clue was when we pulled into the driveway and they were removing the topper from a small Toyota pickup so they could begin hauling the contents of their apartment to their new house, which included a 9 piece couch sectional, 2 TVs, 3 bedrooms worth of beds dressers and clothing, various surfboards, bicycles, kitchen supplies, food etc, etc, etc.
Casa de Austin
You get the picture... only 400 loads later and they would be done! Fortunately Super Parents were able to swoop in at the last moment, grab a $19.99 UHaul, organize the chaos, and get the job done over one very intense weekend. And again, it was totally our pleasure.

Our kids may have moved out of the nest, but our wings were still designed to protect them.

So, after an exhilarating couple of weeks with the boys it was time to head up the coast to our next scheduled gig in Orangevale, a suburb of Sacramento. HOWEVER, when you are professional wanderers such as we are, you don't just simply set your GPS for the destination and blast your way up the interstate... you. take. your. time. and play your way up the road, which is exactly what we did.

Enter California State Route 1 

Here's the deal...When traveling up the Pacific coast from Oceanside to San Francisco, there are 2 very different ways you can approach it. One - you can race up Interstate 5 in a little over seven hours, or two - you can take six days and soak in the breathtakingly, stunningly, amazingly, ridiculously beautiful shoreline along "the 1," as it is affectionately called out here.

Driving Route 1 is like watching a National Geographic America's Most Beautiful Shoreline documentary from behind the windshield. This curvy two-lane road gives you non-stop huge white surf, gorgeous shoreline, breathtaking cliffs and both charming and utzy seaside towns. It truly is something not to be missed, and we are thrilled we got the chance to experience it.

So how do you stretch a 10 hour drive into 6 nights? Easy... you grab a few state parks and camp! Here's where we stayed after leaving Austin's new abode:

Day 1 - at Charli's niece's house in Pasadena. Thank you Mary!

Day 2 - at Leo Carillo State Park just north of Malibu - with no showers. Thank you water shortage!

Home Sweet Dome

Day 3 - at San Simeon State Park in Cambria. Thank you Hearst Castle!

Hundreds of elephant seals sunning near San Simeon State Park

Days 4 and 5 - at a KOA near Santa Cruz. Thank you running water and electricity!

Henry Cowell Redwood State Park

Day 6 - at an old friend's house in San Francisco. Thank you Mark and Susana!

Next up... a few words about our stay here in Orangevale and onward to Colorado, where we camp our way through four, count them FOUR national parks along the way... Yosemite, Sequoia, Mohave National Preserve and the one and only Grand Canyon!

So yeah, for the sake of the owners of our next house sit?... I can only hope our Grand Canyon campsite has showers.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Chapter 7 - House Sitting and the Technology of Travel

A few weeks ago a coworker, who knew I was house sitting and assumed I was in a home office of some sort, asked me over instant message where I was at the time. I replied, "Right now I'm barreling down interstate 40 at about 75 mph." A few seconds later I added... "of course my wife is driving," so he didn't think I was working on a laptop and operating a high speed motor vehicle at the same time, because quite frankly I don't think there's even laws yet for that level of stupidity.

But seriously, people often ask me how I can manage to keep working with all the driving we do. Do you take a lot of vacation time? Do you work at night after you arrive? Do you lie about how many hours you put in? The answer is no, no and NO! The fact is, I do work from our car, and very effectively at that.

This week's route

 Writing this post from somewhere on I-76 in CO

The fact is, maintaining consistent connectivity from the passenger seat requires a special set of tools in order for it work properly, so I thought I would write a post about the various types of technology I use when we travel.

Personal Technology 

Before we sold our house and hit the road, Charli and I needed to take care of a couple of personal items. Because we could no longer receive mail at our old address, we made sure that all of our bills and banking transactions were set up as paperless. Then, for any straggling snail mail that still might come through the postal system, we changed our address to our son's house in Phoenix. Now, whenever he receives something that looks important, he takes a picture of the envelope and texts it to us. That way we can decide if we want him to open it and read it or send it to our latest house sitting location.

Online Business Requirements

Because I work for a global organization, I have to abide by one very simple rule… be online from 8-5 CST Monday through Friday. Our company uses a secure, encrypted VPN for all traffic between the employee and the corporate network, and once logged in we communicate primarily via a beefed up corporate instant messaging application, as well as through email and conference calls. So, to satisfy that, we make certain all the houses we sit at have a consistent high speed internet access, or we don’t apply for the gig.

It's worth noting that working these hours has advantages no matter where we are. For example, in Connecticut I don't have to be online until 9 a.m., which allows me to stay up later and enjoy a little night life every now and then. But in Hawaii I need to start working at 3 a.m., which sounds terrible until you realize that I get done at noon! This of course leaves the entire afternoon to play with my pail and shovel on the beach.

Cell Carriers

For the past 20 years or so Charli and I have been faithful Sprint users. We’ve always liked their “family and friends” plan and the unlimited data is perfect for a large family like ours. However, there are pros and cons to every cell phone company and unfortunately for Sprint, Verizon has better coverage and signal strength. I know this because at my last job I was issued a Verizon phone for work and during our travels Verizon would outperform Sprint consistently. Therefore, when it came time to make a decision about what carrier we would use to support our requirement of being able to work on the road, we went with Verizon. HOWEVER… the tradeoff for using Verizon is that we now have a LIMITED data plan, and with 6 people sharing it, I frequently end up at the end of the month sounding like a bad TV commercial... with me screaming at the kids to stop using Snapchat so much.

 Jet Pack

That being said, the core technology I use to maintain an online presence in our car is this Verizon Jet Pack.  
Sure, I could simply turn on the hot spot feature of my phone and broadcast wirelessly from it, but that would add additional strain to our already expensive monthly data plan. Therefore, I decided to go with an independent prepaid Jet Pack solution. With this I pay $60/mo for 3GB of data, which is more than enough for the type of work I do. To save data usage, I reserve all my large downloads and email archive activity for when we get to a hotel or new house. That way, the only burden on my plan is instant messaging and standard email traffic, which isn’t much. The only frustrating part of this plan is that it expires after 30 days is up, whether I’ve used the 3GB or not. If Verizon REALLY wanted me to be satisfied, they would allow us to simply use the data until it was gone and then renew as needed, but then I guess that’s how Big Cell makes their money.

(note: other prepaid plan options include 250MB for 1 week at $15 and 10GB for 30 days at $90) 

The Cockpit

SO... here is what my “office” looks like when we’re traveling.

 jet pack on the dash

 laptop on my lap, conference call on my phone

 the pilot

The Benefits of House Sitting

So far this arrangement has worked nearly flawlessly. In the last few weeks of traveling from Connecticut to Minnesota (and now on to Phoenix), I’ve only lost my internet connection one time for about 20 minutes while we were traversing a section of the Appalachian Mountains in GA. That’s pretty amazing in my book.

Here's the thing about house sitting...

Obviously, being able to work remotely is a great perk for anyone, but adding house sitting to your career plan provides huge benefits we never even imagined... benefits for both the employee AND employer. For example, because we are free to explore the country while we're (relatively) young, I am not simply schlepping through my job on a daily basis and pining for the day I can retire so I can do it then. Since we've started house sitting, my job satisfaction has increased dramatically and my productivity has never been higher.

I mean, come on... this is my "office" view right now as I type this post...

Do I need to say anything more?

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Chapter 6 - Moving On

I remember when I was 16, sitting in the basement with my friend and making big talk about how as soon as I graduated we were going to jump in his car and move to California, just like that. We didn't need a plan, we'd figure it out when we got there.  It was an exhilarating feeling, the thought of a new adventure with endless possibilities.  There didn't seem to be any reason we couldn't do it, and succeed!

But somehow things didn't work out that way.  By the time I graduated I had a job, college plans and, oh yeah... no money saved.

Fast forward to one year ago, me and Charli sitting in our living room and having this conversation. "So, whatta ya say we sell everything we own and hit the road? We can travel all over the country and live in other people's houses."  "Alright, let's do it!"

Ok, it was a little more detailed than that, but that was the gist of it. The point is, I experienced almost the exact same emotions that moment as when I was a kid... excitement, adventure and possibilities, but this time with butterflies, uncertainties and responsibilities sprinkled in for flavor. Nonetheless we did it. We made a decision and pulled the trigger and did it. And here we are today.

The cool thing is, this WAS the right decision. Right now we are finishing up a 3-month house sit in Connecticut and having a blast. In addition to the day trips I wrote about in my last post, we also had the opportunity to do these other amazing things during this time:

  • Tour the Vanderbilt Mansion and home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the Hudson River
  • See the original site of Woodstock
  • Eat at the Hard Rock Cafe in NYC
  • Walk the Poughkeepsie Bridge
  • See all the major sites in Boston, walk the Freedom Trail, and visit Harvard University.  We even took a trolley tour of the entire city, featuring this animated driver:
  • Visit Bridgeport, CT on the Long Island Sound and stop by the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT
  • Spend a day with Betty Ton and her wonderful family! Betty was one of my very first blog friends back in 2005.
  • Spend a day with Dale Snyder, an old friend from back in 1979 in Duluth, and the drummer of the first "professional" band I was ever in... Sleeper 
  •  Visit Lover's Leap State Park in New Milford, CT

So as you can see from this and previous posts, we've taken full advantage of this amazing opportunity to live here in Connecticut for the past 3 months. But now this time has come to an end and in one more week we pack up the car and hit the road again.

From here we head to the west coast for our next gig in Orangevale, CA, but not before stopping to visit nearly every family member we have. Here is our itinerary (click to enlarge).

Washington DC - lunch with Charli's niece
Durham, NC - dinner with my nephew and his wife
Athens, GA - a few days with Charli's sister and her family
Prestonsburg, KY - a night with Charli's other sister and her family
St. Louis, MO - a night with Charli's dad and her brother
Duluth, MN - a week with my entire family including my parents, brothers and sister and their families
St. Cloud, MN - a few days back in our hometown with everyone we've ever known over the last 20 years
Phoenix, AZ - a few days with our son Brandon
Oceanside, CA - a few days with our other son Austin
Orangevale, CA - our May house sitting gig
Ridgway, CO - our June house sitting gig

So yeah, I think it's safe to say we have a very exciting trip ahead of us!  Stay tuned as we continue to share our stories along the way.

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